Digging into the IMLS Strategic Plan

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has been an essential resource for libraries and library schools since its inception over two decades ago. According to its mission statement, this agency works “to advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grant-making, research, and policy development.” On the ground, the work supported by the IMLS takes the form of anything from STEAM programming to data-rich research projects. “Transforming Communities,” the recently published 2018-2022 IMLS Strategic Plan, reviews specific successes and focuses on broader strategies to lead us into the next few years. Certain aspects of the plan—approaches to learning and literacy, library engagement statistics, and serving the under-served—might be of particular interest to library staff who work with youth.

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Allied Media Conference & Call for Proposals

Do you view libraries, archives, museums, and galleries through a lens of them being a leading force in social justice, activism, and community organizing? Then you may be interested in attending the Allied Media Conference (AMC) which takes place June 14-17, 2018 in Detroit. The AMC brings together themed conference tracks comprised of sessions that are all connected by the concept of media-based organizing, “or any collaborative process that uses media, art or technology to address the roots of problems and advance holistic solutions towards a more just and creative world.” This year, the Radical Libraries, Archives, and Museums track will return to Allied Media Conference and aims to share more ideas and skills while allowing individuals working in these fields to make connections and support each other in their work.

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Technology on the Inside: Inside the Juvenile Justice System

The Boston Public Library (BPL) has had a partnership with the Department of Youth Services (DYS) since 2010. DYS is the state agency that serves teens who are incarcerated and there are two locations in the Metro Boston region that houses up to 90 young men in seven different units. DYS doesn’t have a formal library and for the past seven years each month two BPL Teen Librarians visit each of the units and provides library services by providing books-those books are booktalked to engage the teens and teens may also make specific requests. Each month approximately 70 books from BPL are checked out along with upwards of 30 of those that are specific requests. January 2018 marks the expansion of this program and brings technology into DYS provided by the public library as a pilot program. There are significant limitations for teens in DYS especially with technology and this type of program isn’t routine in most juvenile detention settings.

Twelve Kindles were purchased with up to 40 popular titles downloaded on each. The titles are recreational and popular in nature and many of the titles are only available in hardcover. Two units were designated as sites for this pilot year. Every other month one Teen Librarian goes to the two units and meets with the teens and talks about the books, some methods of accessing books and teaches tips in digital literacy with the Kindles. The teens have access to the Kindles in their classrooms every day and as this is a pilot program input from them is crucial as are new titles to add on the Kindles. The program has an MOU (memorandum of understanding) and responsibilities are expected from both organization such as keeping statistics of usage, surveying the teens usability and likability of the titles and the Kindles themselves. The hope is after the pilot year the program can expand into other units as well as expanding the program itself to incorporate the existing applications on the Kindles like Kahn Academy into exposing teens to these applications.

The existing BPL lending program gives teens a freedom of choice with their ability to choose the books they want to read, this program gives them even more of a choice by having multiple titles on one device that the teens can access as well as informally teaching them digital literacy. Programs like this with technology aren’t something that a lot of public libraries are doing with juvenile justice systems in the United States.

This is a pilot program and as such will be evaluated to see the success of the program. One of the expectations of the program is sharing out about the program, input from the Boston Public Library Teen Librarians, teens that utilize the program and staff at Department of Youth Services. Stay tuned for more YALSA Blog posts on this innovative program.

Gimme a C (for Collaboration!): Fine free.

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the Los Angeles Public Library system (LAPL) have created a system-wide collaborative effort similar to those discussed in the now completed Public Library & School Library Collaboration Toolkit (.pdf). The toolkit was published earlier this month by the AASL/ALSC/YALSA School and Public Library Cooperation Committee.  There are three System-wide Initiatives found in other parts of the nation described in the toolkit, but Los Angeles has cooperated in a way that is different, yet (you can view the other System-wide Initiatives and many other programs that will fit any public or school district on ALSC’s web site). 

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Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff: Take a Learning Break with YALSA Snack Breaks

cover of the YALSA Teen Services CompetenciesAs you read the Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff you may think to yourself, there are some things that I want to learn. Or, there are some areas that I want to get better at. One way to get started with that learning is with YALSA’s Snack Breaks. These videos, published monthly, are between 3 and 15 minutes long (well there might be a couple that are a bit longer) and cover a range of topics related to the new Competencies. Check out the Snack Break on Restorative Approaches to Behavior Management in Libraries.

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Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff: Equity of Access

Cover of YALSA competencies for library staff YALSA released the new Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff just in time for my 10 year anniversary as a YALSA volunteer. It is a great time for me to look back on what I have gained in those 10 years and reflect. Each content area is broken into three levels of achievement: developing, practicing, and transforming. With 10 years of hindsight, I can really see how I have moved through these levels in the content area around Equity of Access. The core of this competency reads:

Ensures access to a wide variety of library resources, services, and activities for and with all teens, especially those facing challenges to access.

When I started in my current position, I knew that serving our Juvenile Detention Center was going to be part of the job. Our Library had already been serving the facility through collections and programs for over 5 years, and I would be taking over from the librarians who started the program (not at all intimidating, let me tell you).

At the time, the Juvenile Detention Center (JDC) had an average daily population of about 85. Most residents were male and between the ages of 15 and 18 and stayed in the facility for about 2 weeks. And although the area my library served was predominantly white, the JDC was predominantly teens of color.
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The December Dilemma: Addressing Identity in the Library

The December Dilemma image, white and yellow text on black background.

As we reflect on the holiday season, it is vital to assess our approach to cultural identity and diversity. Teaching Tolerance and the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding recently hosted a webinar exploring the many ways educators can embrace diversity during this culturally complex time of year. As library staff, we can use “The December Dilemma” and its accompanying informational documents to analyze and improve our current holiday programming, and continue to foster an inclusive environment throughout the rest of the year.

Regarding holiday-specific diversity, this packet includes timelines and plans for holiday discussions. Perhaps the most thorough of these is the “Holiday Inclusion Planning Template,” which provides an outline for year-long holiday preparation and resource management. The chart’s description encourages users to identify “which part(s) of your curriculum relate most directly to the holiday and provide the best opportunity for a ‘teachable moment.'” Although originally designed for use by teachers in a school setting, the entire program can certainly be implemented in our context. Slight adjustments would result in an extensive and effective approach to this subject suitable for the youth we serve at our libraries.

Beyond discussion surrounding holidays, this webinar and the accompanying informational packet both address the establishment of a respectful atmosphere. Many of these tools, tips, and techniques can easily be adapted for our programming purposes. The “Rules of Respect” portion of this supplemental packet includes prompts for open discussions about respect, conscious listening, and thoughtful inquiry. While some of these activities–like forming a “listening circle” or creating a chart detailing what respect looks and feels like–are aimed towards a younger audience, the core concepts can be employed for a range of age groups. For example, writing and signing a Rules of Respect Agreement could provide a foundation for newly formed teen clubs, or be used as a way to establish expectations for storytime. Another unit, “My Identity and My Family,” includes book suggestions, activity templates, and discussion prompts that could be introduced into already existing programming or used as a stand-alone unit.

While this webinar and toolkit explore diversity within the specific context of the holiday season, they also provide a solid and thorough approach to religious and cultural tolerance. Whether we use this as preparation for holiday programming, or simply as a framework for conducting identity work within our libraries, this is an invaluable resource. The archived webinar and supplemental documents can be found here.

How Student Engagement is Important for Libraries

A recent survey conducted by YouthTruth discusses whether or not students feel engaged in their school studies. Understanding student engagement is important for educators and librarians because it can give great insight into challenges affecting learning both inside and outside of the classroom. YouthTruth analyzed survey responses from over 230,000 students in grades three through twelve. The information was gathered through YouthTruth’s anonymous online climate and culture survey across 36 states. View the entire report here.

The survey targeted four specific statements, which followed with percentages of their findings. The first was that, “across all grade levels, the majority of students feel engaged.” The results to this statement showed 78 percent of elementary school students, 59 percent of middle school students and 60 percent of high school students respectively felt engaged in school work. It is interesting to see that number drop from the time a student left elementary school and finally made it to high school. However, it isn’t surprising. In elementary school students are constantly praised for the work they do and are often times engaged in more “fun programs” than those who entered the older grades.

This isn’t to say that middle schools and high schools aren’t doing their job of praising students or that they are not having fun. They are – I see it on a daily basis on the social media websites and social media accounts that the schools and teachers at middle and high school levels use. A lot happens in middle school and high school: Life changes occur, college prep begins and suddenly the fun of school is hidden beneath the requirements needed to leave and enter the real world. Students may not feel engaged, not because their teachers aren’t showing how important they are but because so much is happening that education gets lost in the shuffle.

According to the survey, “most students take pride in their school work.” This result shows 72 percent of middle school students taking pride and 68 percent of high school students. The survey broke it down even further to state that females are slightly more likely to take pride in school work than males or students who identify as other than male or female.

The last two survey findings were interesting to me, as they speak a lot to an area I feel public libraries can step in and help fill the gap.

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Year-End Activities for Library Staff

Recently there was a discussion on the listserv for the Association of Rural and Small Libraries about what activities are good to undertake at the end of the year.  It seemed like a good topic for the YALSAblog, too, so I’ve adapted my answers to make them more focused on serving youth:

Reflecting on this year

  • Send thank you notes to volunteers, supporters, and anyone who gave a helping hand or moral support.
  • Do a post-mortem of your overall efforts to serve teens in 2017. What was successful? What failed and why?  What will you do differently next year?  For more about taking the time to reflect, read this article, Time to Reflect: why does it matter in the workplace?
  • Conduct a review library policies and procedures to see if they need updating. Some useful information is on the ALA site and YALSA’s wiki.
  • Conduct a review the teen pages on your school or library’s web site and social media sites to see what needs updating or improving. Check out ASCLA’s web accessibility resources.  Review content and style for inclusive language, professional content versus personal beliefs, and potential sexist, discriminatory, or similarly insensitive language or images.  Ensure graphics do not show people in stereotypical roles.

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More Than Accessible

Libraries strive to be inclusive spaces across North America, but are they? What is the difference between being accessible and being inclusive? More often than not, libraries find themselves as accessible places in an effort to adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act or Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act that we have here in my home province. Ramps that allow patrons with mobility issues to enter their local branches and modified collections for those with a visual impairment are ideal examples of how libraries can act as accessible spaces. The challenge is in making those same spaces inclusive to those who are different, specifically regarding programming and services normally available to the average patron.

Think of the last storytime you ran at your library. Perhaps it was a bit loud, active, got children out of their seats and was an all-around great time. Now ask yourself: would someone with autism feel comfortable in that environment? What about your teen programs? It took a long time before I even got close to offering inclusive programs because it is definitely a challenge. There are factors you normally don’t consider that can be major obstacles for those living with a disability.

I want to encourage you to make the effort, regardless of how daunting of a challenge it may seem, because the potential outcome will be more rewarding for you, your library, and your community than you can imagine. Getting starting is often the most challenging part of any project so I want to share a recent success regarding special-needs programming in the hope that it will inspire you to identify a need in your community and work with your local partners to address it.  You might also check out the resources on YALSA’s wiki.

Through focus groups, surveys, and community outreach, we identified a significant lack of support in our city for teens and young adults with special needs. We listened to parents talk about the lack of meaningful opportunities available for their children once they were phased out of school, and what was available had a significant price tag attached to it. Parents spoke about the desire to see their child learn the skills necessary to eventually hold a steady job and feel as though they are part of society, not a social outcast.

This is when most libraries make a common mistake: programming for the community instead of with your community. It’s easy to listen to a parent tell you that her son needs more opportunities to be social only to turn around and throw together a hodgepodge of a program, but what is the desired outcome? Will the program teach new skills, provide learning opportunities, enhance their quality of life or will it simply be glorified babysitting?  A colleague suggested I approach Community Living York South, a local organization serving individuals with disabilities and special needs. Several meetings later I had a better understanding of the challenges facing these individuals in our city and the role our library system could play in supporting them.  If you’re new to building outcomes into your program planning, check out the resources on YALSA’s wiki.

Many of the young adults I spoke with expressed a desire to learn how to use a computer. The basic skills we often take for granted were barriers for these youth and restricted their ability to achieve a fundamental mission of any library system – equal access to information. Through these conversations and research, I developed an adapted computer program for young adults with special needs. The workshop would be offered every Tuesday afternoon for two hours for 8 consecutive weeks. Since I was facilitating it, there would be no cost to the participants, but due to space and equipment limitations we were only able to take on nine students.

We decided upon several topics for the program:

  • Computer basics (turning on, opening & closing windows, etc.)
  • Keyboarding & mouse skills
  • Microsoft Word and communication skills
  • Using the Internet for research & Internet Safety
  • Cyberbullying and peer-pressure

Each lesson was comprised of educational games, computer exercises, real-world examples, group discussions, and a review period at the end of the session. We also encouraged participants to mentor their peers who were having difficulty with certain tasks. Some of our students were able to complete their work quickly, so rather than sit and become disinterested, they were encouraged to pair up and support someone in need of assistance. This became one of the most rewarding aspects of the program because participants were now learning more than just how to use a computer, they were developing their communication and interpersonal skills while making new friends.

I’ve made it sound much simpler than it is, but I want to encourage each of you to take on the challenge of making your library more inclusive. It won’t happen overnight and you’ll encounter countless roadblocks along the way, but know that it will all be worth it. The picture you see below is from the first class I had the pleasure of teaching and I keep it by my desk as a constant reminder that all it takes it a willingness to support those who are too often left behind.

Are you still wondering if you should be offering adapted programs? Well, let me tell you about Adam (I’ve changed his name for privacy) from the program. Adam came to the first class nervous and apprehensive because he had never used a computer. In his own words, he considers himself too “dumb” to use a computer, but that didn’t stop me from trying. Each week we practiced the most basic tasks to create a strong foundation of knowledge he could build on. It seemed as though little progress was being made, until I overheard his conversation with a classmate. I was walking around the class helping participants with their assignment when I heard Adam say, “I can’t believe I’m doing it. I’m actually using a computer. Look, I’m doing it!”

There’s an Adam in your community, and I know with your determination to support those in need, you can provide every Adam with an opportunity to succeed and make your library a truly inclusive space.